To re-read, or not to re-read? There’s a question with a complicated answer. Some readers choose to read the same book (or series) over and over again. These readers may enjoy re-visiting worlds and characters that are familiar, or looking for new insights as they read. Other readers may view the act of re-reading as a waste of time, or simply prefer to consistently seek out new reading material.
Honestly, there’s no “correct” answer to this question. Whether or not you choose to re-read books is up to you.
Personally, I have done a tremendous amount of re-reading in my lifetime, and I feel like it has been a worthwhile use of my time. There are several books in my home library that I’ve read at least five or more times, and a select few that I’ve read upwards of 20. Of course, not every book in my library is entitled to a re-read, and I often have a specific purpose behind my choice to revisit a particular title.
Here are five of the most common reasons I have for re-reading a book…
1. To compare a book to its most recent movie adaptation…
As you probably know from my “Book vs. Movie” posts, I generally try to read books prior to seeing their movie adaptations. I’m usually pretty good about doing this, but there are times when my initial reading far predates the movie’s release. A great example of this would be Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. While I loved the recent movie adaptation, I would need to go back and re-read the novel if I wanted to write a review, simply because it’s been at least 20 years since the last time I read it.
Even if I’m not planning to write a review of a new movie, I will often re-read the original book to see how they compare, just to satisfy my own curiosity.
2. To see what a book has to offer you at a different age…
What we get out of reading a book has a tendency to change as we age. In going back and re-reading a childhood favorite, we may find that we have the ability to relate to characters that we couldn’t relate to before. We might also notice themes that weren’t apparent to us as kids. Ultimately, our life experiences between our first reading and our second (or third, fourth, or fifth) may allow us to experience the world of the book in a new way.
Based on this letter, I think it’s clear that C.S. Lewis understood that there are times when certain books are more (or less) appropriate for us as readers. Sometimes we may read a book before we’re ready for it, or a time when a particular title would have had a great impact might pass us by without our knowledge. The idea that we (like Lucy) will eventually reach the point where we are “old enough to start reading fairy tales again” is appealing, because it suggests two things. First, it suggests that the stories of childhood will be worthwhile to us in the future. And second, it suggests that even if we didn’t read a specific book at the “opportune moment,” we haven’t completely missed out. We still have an opportunity to read and appreciate it in the future.
3. To read a book for its own sake, rather than as an assignment…
If there is one problem with reading books in school, it is that we turn the act of reading into an assignment. No matter how much you love reading, it can be very difficult to engage with a book you’ve been told you “have to read.”
Though it was not nearly so common in college, I experienced this a lot in high school. Despite the fact that I was always reading outside of class (and sometimes while walking to class), I had a hard time getting into many of the books that we were assigned to read for class. There were really only a handful of titles that I remember fully engaging with at the time, including: Homer’s The Odyssey, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, John Hersey’s Hiroshima, and Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We.
There are a few “required reads” that I’ve taken the time to re-read since graduation, just to give them a second chance. Did I enjoy them more the second time around? In some cases, yes. Others, not so much. But even if I didn’t necessarily enjoy those titles during my second reading, I was at least able to appreciate why my English teachers assigned them in the first place.
4. To teach a book, or participate in book discussions, more effectively…
If you’re a teacher, particularly if you teach English/Language Arts, re-reading is probably a significant part of your life. Any time I asked my students to read a book for class, I always made a point of re-reading the book along with them; doing the same “homework,” in a sense. Reading the same chapters as they did each night allowed me to guide the following day’s discussion more effectively. It was a lot of re-reading (especially during the years when I had four or more preps), and made for some very busy evenings, but it was worth it.
Even if you’re not a classroom teacher, re-reading can help you better engage in conversation during your neighborhood (or online) book club. Having been in several book clubs over the years, I can attest that discussions are much more enjoyable when everyone is actually prepared to participate. Even re-reading just a few important sections of your club’s chosen book can be a big help.
5. Simply for the pleasure of reading a favorite story again…
If you want to know which of my books I have enjoyed the most over the years, look for the ones that are falling apart. In my home library, you will find copies of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings with heavy creases on their spines, multiple science fiction and mystery paperbacks with dents and creases acquired by frequent travel inside backpacks and purses, and a hardback copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that is being held together by nothing more than packaging tape and wishful thinking.
While I really enjoy reading brand new books, there’s something comforting about re-reading an old favorite. Yes, you already know how the story is going to end, but that’s okay. Maybe you just need to spend some time in a familiar world, or hang out with a favorite character for a while. It’s something I do frequently when I’m stressed, and it really helps me unwind.
Of all the reasons I re-read books, re-reading for pleasure is undoubtedly my favorite!
Do you have a favorite book that you’ve re-read a significant number of times? If so, I’d love to know what book, and why it’s a favorite. To share, simply leave a comment on this post with the title, author’s name, and a brief description of why you love reading it. I’m always on the lookout for new books to read, and I’d love to have a chance to read your favorites!